A Man and Galway City Tribune
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by a man that the Galway City Tribune breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 7 (Court Reporting) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Galway City Tribune published a District Court report under the heading ‘Landlord “took law into his own hands”’. The report included the information that “a landlord who took the law into his own hands trying to eject a tenant from his apartment building was found guilty of assault”. The report concluded with the information that the Judge was ordering a probation report and a victim impact report to be prepared by December 1st “when he would make his decision”. The person referred to as the “landlord” was the complainant.
The complainant wrote to the editor of the Galway City Tribune setting out a number of inaccuracies which he said were contained in the article. The editor stood over the report, saying that by necessity a three-hour hearing had to be condensed.
The complainant then wrote to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the court report had been a “seriously distorted article of a partially heard District Court case” and that several very important items raised in court had been “deliberately omitted”.
The editor of the Galway City Tribune in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that he “wished to rebut in their entirety the claims and allegations of (the complainant) pertaining to his conviction in Galway District Court in September of last year of assault on one of his tenants”. The editor described the report as an “accurate condensed record of a three-hour hearing”. He stood over what was reported on in the District Court case stating that the newspaper could not report “many serious allegations” the complainant, who represented himself in court, had made against an individual. The editor went on to state the complainant “was consistently reminded in the course of the District Court case by both the Judge and the prosecuting Garda that he was not entitled to make these statements without producing corroborative evidence (which he did not). It would have been reckless and illegal for our reporter to have included these in her report and would have left Galway City Tribune exposed to a potential legal action for defamation without having absolute court privilege to fall back on.”
In a further submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the complainant again argued strongly that the article contained many inaccuracies. He said that the person he was originally convicted of assaulting (a conviction which was subsequently overturned in the Circuit Court) had not been a tenant of his at the time of the alleged assault but a former tenant. He said that information on his former tenant’s health and activities had not been included in the report. He also objected to the
failure of the article to explain why he had represented himself in the District Court case (his solicitor had been “unexpectedly” tied up in a High Court case). He continued to claim that the report had been sensationalised.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
As I can find no significant inaccuracy in the article Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) was not breached. The complainant stated that the reference to him as a “landlord” was inaccurate, as he was not the man’s landlord for well in excess of a month before the incident. However, he was described in court as the “landlord”, and the article was a report of the court hearing.
Equally there is no evidence of a breach of Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment). I can find no example in the report where comment is reported as fact.
In regard to Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) there is nothing in the report to suggest that the reporter did not strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information.
There is no breach of Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) as there is nothing in the report to suggest that it had been based upon malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations or that there had been a failure to take reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
In regard to Principle 5 (Privacy) court proceedings are on the public record and can be reported by newspapers. The complainant’s privacy was not breached in the report as only matters raised in court were reported.
Principle 7 of the Code of Practice states
The press shall strive to ensure that court reports … are fair and accurate, are not prejudicial to the right to a fair trial and that the presumption of innocence is reported.
A newspaper is not obliged to report all of the evidence presented and arguments put forward in a court case. The report can be a summary of the most important and relevant aspects of the court case as long as that summary is fair (to all parties) and accurate. There is no evidence in the report that Principle 7 of the Code was breached.
17 May 2018
Note: the complainant has exercised his right under data protection legislation to have the decision reported in an anonymous form.
The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
Decision of the Press Council
The complainant appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision on the grounds (i) That significant new information relevant to the original complaint is available that could not have been or was not made available to the Press Ombudsman before making the decision, and (ii) That there has been an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Principles of the Code of Practice.
At its meeting on 7 September 2018 the Press Council decided that the appeal was not admissible because it did not contain sufficient evidence to support the grounds cited. The decision of the Press Ombudsman therefore stands.